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World’s largest bat being hunted into extinction

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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fllying foxWith a wingspan of more than 1.5 meters, the large flying fox (Pteropus vampyrus) is the world’s largest bat. But that size hasn’t helped it. In fact, the giant fruit bat has become a target for hunting, and so many of them are being killed every year that the species now faces possible extinction, according to a new study.

The study, headed up by Jonathan H. Epstein of the Wildlife Trust in New York City, was published in the August 25 online edition of the Journal of Applied Ecology. It has been called the first study of its kind to examine fruit bats in Asia.

The large flying fox can be found in countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Cambodia. In Malaysia alone, 22,000 bats are legally hunted every year, and an unknown number are also illegally killed. In a prepared statement, Epstein said that this level of hunting "is unsustainable for the number of bats in the country and will decimate this ecologically important species."

Regarding that ecological importance, Epstein told the BBC that the bats "eat fruit and nectar and in doing so they drop seeds around and pollinate trees. So they are critical to the propagation of rainforest plants."

The flying fox is currently listed as "near threatened" by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which notes that the species is "in significant decline…because it is being overharvested for food over much of its range, and because of ongoing degradation of its primary forest habitat." IUCN research shows that the flying fox population has dropped "at a rate of probably less than 30 percent over 10 years."

Epstein and his team found that the bats travel great distances in search of food, and travel hundreds of kilometers between roosting sites. This often sends them across national borders. The species is protected in bordering Thailand, but hunting is permitted in other nearby countries.

Using computer models, Epstein says that the large flying fox could become extinct in as few as six years.

In order to save the species from extinction in Malaysia, Epstein and his colleagues are calling for a temporary hunting ban. According to the Wildlife Trust, "the Malaysian Department of National Parks and Wildlife participated in the research and is currently reviewing hunting policy in light of this study."


Image: Large flying fox (Pteropus vampyrus), via Wikipedia





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  1. 1. stephen phelan 9:30 pm 08/31/2009

    I once saw flying foxes in a zoo in Austrailia, where they were seperated from me by a chicken wire type screen. The screen was just big enough to stick fingers thru, which I did. The bats were very friendly and affectionate, I am very sad to hear they are threatened. Would it be possible for them to be introduced in the Americas?

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  2. 2. ScarySteve 11:37 pm 08/31/2009

    Meaningless introduction of invasive species? I feel bad for saying Stephen, but that is a terrible idea. It is a ecological viewpoint that a species is not even a species onto itself outside its natural habitat.
    A leading reason in the current biological holocaust is human assisted invasion of foreign biota.
    And I dont want to disenchant you, but to further my point, the bats you encountered are mearly the genetic representation of the animal. They dont act like that in the wild. There is a difference of friendly and begging for food. I too saw them in Australia (not in a zoo) and the locals report them as quite menacing. Last thing the Hispanic Americas need is another agricultural (invasive) pest.
    Sadly, a solution will not come that easy.
    Your concern for biological conservation is what the world needs more of. Spread it.

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  3. 3. kcurtain 3:59 am 09/1/2009

    I used to live in Australia (Brisbane) and I can assure you that the fruit bats aren’t menacing at all! Nor have I ever heard them described by Australians as menacing, though they can be destructive to trees. They used to fly right past my apartment window every evening and often stayed most of the night feeding in a tree next to my building. Once I was frightening when a fruit bat suddenly came out of the dark and flew right past my head, but that’s only because I didn’t see it coming. They are amazing creatures and it would be a serious loss if they became extinct.

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  4. 4. quinno 11:25 am 09/1/2009

    Epstein mentions that the bats are involved in seed dispersal and pollination. I think this is an important point. Each species is an integral component of a biosphere to which we are inextricably connected. The widespread extinction of species were witnessing today, largely as a result of our own actions, is more than just sad; its a threat to our own survival and quality of life.

    Ive posted a link to this piece on the Darwin150 Facebook page, a 250,000 member Facebook group celebrating the anniversary of Darwin’s Origin of Species. The group offers an online lecture series that features some very high-profile scientists and aims to improve public understanding of important topics like these. Its free and open to all.

    Thanks,

    Quinn
    Volunteer, Darwin150 Facebook campaign and lecture series
    On our way to 1 million, help us get there
    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=53320310123
    http://www.Darwin150.org

    Link to this
  5. 5. philterry 12:19 pm 09/1/2009

    This is bad news – and it reminds me of the work E.O. Wilson is doing to save the biosphere.

    E.O. Wilson will be delivering the final lecture in the Darwin150 lecture series this fall. You can sign-up free for the webcast or come live to Harvard.
    http://DarwinLecture4.Eventbrite.com

    We’ve put a link to this article on the Darwin150 Facebook group (at 250,000 members on our way to 1 million).

    Thanks,

    Phil
    Founder, Darwin150 Facebook campaign and lecture series
    On our way to 1 million, help us get there
    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=53320310123
    http://www.Darwin150.org

    Link to this
  6. 6. Quinn the Eskimo 8:34 pm 09/1/2009

    Too hunt a species to extinction is not logical. — Spock

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  7. 7. Donantonio 9:51 pm 09/1/2009

    Let’s just cut to the chase here- WHO, assuming that someone, or some THING would be present in that case, would even SUGGEST that killing such a magnificent creature could be remotely justified?!! We’ve got a lot more work, and a lot more loving to do, if WE hope to survive as a species!
    dafucci@yahoo.com Big Island, Hawaii

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  8. 8. bhattlv 8:00 pm 09/13/2009

    i am sad to see "PEST OF THE MONTH,BATS" placed by so-called pest control eliminators. hello! since when are bats considered pests?from a billboard in WORCESTER,MA USA

    Link to this
  9. 9. bhattlv 8:08 pm 09/13/2009

    i am sad to see "PEST OF THE MONTH,BATS" placed by so-called pest control eliminators. hello! since when are bats considered pests?from a billboard in WORCESTER,MA USA

    Link to this

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